“Except that it’s not really Prog is it?” was a comment posted on a thread I initiated about a much anticipated new release from an artist who is well known for his progressive leanings. Well it got me thinking, ‘does it really matter?’, are some listeners and music reviewers too firmly entrenched in their own ideals, too far up their own backsides, that they cannot see the simple beauty in music? If it is just a collection of well written songs that will appeal to a wider audience but, also Prog lovers among others, then, what does it matter?
Don’t get me wrong, I really love progressive rock and, if you cut me, I will bleed it but, when so called ‘aficionados’ sit in their ivory ‘prog’ towers and stick rigidly to their playlists, insisting that it must be progressive rock (beards, robes, 60 minute mellotron solos and Roger Dean stage sets) or it is not worth listening to then I have to find the nearest brick wall and bang my head repeatedly against it.
Open up your bloody horizons man!, good music is good music whatever it is and whoever produces it (except for One Direction of course!), one of the best, feel good songs of the moment is Pharrell Williams’ Happy, just because that style of music is not a particular favourite of mine does not mean it isn’t great to listen to, “like it or loathe it but don’t pigeon hole it” a friend said to me and that idiom will stand the test of time.
So what musical release started this great debate? Simon Godfrey and his solo acoustic album Motherland and, I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only person waiting to hear this album with exceedingly bated breath and oodles of expectation. Better known as the frontman of cult British progressive band Tinyfish, Simon released the ground breaking Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed‘ last year, under the Shineback moniker. Motherland, the first record to be released under his own name, is a collection of eleven very personal songs recorded over twelve weeks in Philadelphia and London.
This is a very personal record, made between two countries on a laptop, some stringed instruments, a USB keyboard and one tiny microphone. This is not production. It’s personal, close, natural and, deliberately so.” He goes on to say, “You’ll hear some bum notes, but you’ll also hear the honesty, heart and, above all else, the songs in the form they came to me. The only other individual to contribute to the record is my long term writing partner Robert Ramsay… it was like old times working with Rob. Some of the songs featured are 20 years old… Others are so new, they have been in existence for less time than it took to record and release this record… It was only after I commenced recording them that I realised that in some way or another, they were all about leaving something behind. This resonated with me Ian profound way as I’ll be leaving the UK to go and live in the USA for good in May 2014. This record is my thank you letter to Britain for taking care of me all these years. – Simon Godfrey
I have had quite a few listens to Motherland now and I keep discovering little nuggets and treats every time I press play and hear the opening of Faultlines, a slow, wistful introduction that puts me in mind of mist rolling over a riverbank before the gentle acoustic guitar playfully joins the fray, Simon’s cultured and delicate vocal is a treat for the ears as the song gets into full flow, anyone who has listened to Tinyfish or Shineback will recognise it immediately, although the pared back and emotive delivery is a totally stripped back version. The song has a nostalgic aura aided and abetted by the plaintive vocal and simple instrumental backing of the rather delectable guitar, a truly delightful start to the album.
Dust and Wires was the first promotional track released from the album and has already garnered plenty of praise, to me it is an anthem for the summer of 2014, an absolute joy of a song. The catchy, repetitive guitar that lingers in the background is one of those tunes that will stick in your mind and the vocals are measured and delivered with felicity. Under the simplistic appearance of the track is backbone that has a clever complexity to it, the chorus is great and I found myself playing this song on permanent repeat.
A pensive, haunting vocal and delicately strummed acoustic guitar are the cornerstones of The Big Inside, a track that carries on building momentum from humble beginnings. The slow and measured delivery of Simon’s vocal gives added meaning as he enunciates each syllable. There is something quite cleansing about this album, proving that music does not have to be pompous or bombastic to have an inner gravitas and a hidden depth. The gentle but persuasive chorus is quite clever in its delivery, songwriting like this needs to be applauded. The first really up-tempo track on Motherland, Tearing Up The Room has an incredibly addictive acoustic riff that tumbles around your mind and digs in to remain there indefinitely. The vocal is upbeat and funky and I have an image of an acoustic rock n’ roll track from the 50’s updated to modern times and, when the brilliant harmonica playing is set free, I’m in rapture, this track is a hook-laden treat on the aural sensors.
Not wanting to lose the momentum given by the previous track, God Help Me If I’m Wrong is another up-tempo track chock full of charm. The combination of a softer, laid back verse with the immensely addictive chorus is surely the work of a higher intelligence and leaves me with a mile wide grin splitting my face, this album is becoming seriously habit forming!
Now onto a blast from the past for any fans of Tinyfish, the next track is an acoustic reworking of The June Jar, originally released on the mini-album ‘Curious Things’. Now, being a big fan of the original version of the song I was somewhat intrigued to hear Simon’s modern update. Luckily, all is well as the song is all I hoped it would be with a busy introduction and classy acoustic guitar giving rein to Simon’s most authoritative vocal performance on the album, more focused than dreamy and more of a roller coaster ride than anything previous, we are not talking thrill rides here, more something suitable for younger children but, a quality delve into the past that produces one happy listener.
After a flurry of tracks that have taken the more upbeat route, Simon takes us back to a more laid back, gentle pace with We’re Not Angels which brings to mind lazy days, sunny skies and wisps of cloud, heavenly and peaceful as it is in construction and delivery. The soothing guitar and relaxing vocal put you into a dreamlike state; all is rapturous and wonderful in this corner of the musical universe. The Inaccurate Man is a cultivated, gentle ballad with an inelaborate guitar and unembellished vocal delivering an experience that is pure and simple, Simon’s voice is a sheer delight and the harmonised parts just drip quality and emotion, flawless and superlative.
Quirky and eclectic, Nine Times Everything is a song that is slightly more cerebral, the guitar is slightly off kilter with a note that grabs your attention and the vocal is more demonstrative, it really is a track that has different layers of meaning, belying the simplistic accord that an acoustic album engenders and the way the song runs out with vocal fading away over that arresting guitar is masterful. With a vibe that is more jazz and soul inspired, Sally Won’t Remember is contemplative and reflective, a forlorn sounding guitar meanders into the song before the vocal begins, narrative and thoughtful and goes on to recount a sobering tale, it holds you in stasis, unable to look away as you lean forward, eagerly awaiting the continuing story. There appears to be a yearning and sadness involved and it is intensely gripping, leaving you feeling slightly lost as the song comes to an end, that’s the power of great songwriting.
To say it is only just over 40 minutes long, the album grabs your attention throughout and it is with surprise you realise it is the end as the opening bars of title track Motherland ring out. A gently plucked, meditative, memorable guitar delivers unto us the measured spoken word vocal of Robert Ramsay and I cannot help feeling that this song is Simon’s way of closing one chapter of his life as he begins another, there is a feeling of sadness that is tempered by a new page turning and a new adventure beginning, intelligent and contemplative, please listen closely to the words and then turn up the volume and listen to the last minute and you will get some idea of who Simon Godfrey really is.
I have been waiting for this release for some time and, I am happy to report it is everything I expected and more, Simon Godfrey is one of those guys who happens to be a brilliant musician and a really nice guy and, in Motherland he has produced a work of art, full of grace and intelligence. There is verve and vigour to the songs and they connect in so many ways, a soundtrack for the modern world perhaps, Mr Godfrey I salute you.